ST. PAUL SCHOOL as it appeared Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. Demolition is set to begin before the end of the year.

(Independent Photo/Melissa Shepard)

 

  The 94-year-old building that housed St. Paul Catholic School and the 70-year-old convent are set for demolition, possibly before the end of this year. St. Paul Catholic Church Parish was established in 1871. In 1927, the school building was added and the convent was built in 1951, replacing a building that was originally used as the school and convent. In 2020, St. Paul Catholic School moved to the campus of the former St. Joseph School on E. Oliver Street, because the parish couldn’t keep up with repair costs on the building.

  In 2019, the Owosso Catholic Parish building and grounds committee, which includes parish members such as local business owners, a retired school administrator, past principal and teacher, general contractors, etc., did a thorough review of all their facilities. The committee reported back to the Pastor in April of 2019 with the recommendation that the St. Paul convent should be demolished. The convent had been vacant since 2015 and was costing the parish $5,500 a year. Additional concerns were that an empty building could be the target of vandalism and to update the building to code it would cost 1 million dollars.

   Building and Grounds Committee Chairperson Bruce Buysee had this to say about the tour a few years ago, “The convent roof was in bad shape, it hadn’t been replaced since 1952 and had started to fall in to the 2nd floor, which meant the asbestos was very extensive. The building is not handicap accessible either. The parish can’t afford to fix the building and Diocese doesn’t want to.” 

  In November of the same year, the committee reported back and recommended that the school move from its present spot on W. Main Street to the school building at St. Joseph on E. Oliver Street. With declining enrollment in both the religious and school education programs, it was not fiscally responsible to maintain two school buildings. In order to make the St. Paul School building safe, a restoration company reported it would cost around $350,000 to repair just the exterior. The building posed a serious safety concern, with brick and limestone breaking off; and the parking lots would also require repairs. The total estimate at that time to make the school safe and accessible was over 1.5 million dollars.

  Whereas, the St. Joseph School building was newer and would only cost about $100,000 to update, it also met ADA requirements and the update for technology was much easier.

  In September of 2020, almost a year after the decision to demolish the convent was made, the committee recommended to the Pastor that the old St. Paul School building be torn down. The building was deteriorating and costing $28,000 a year to maintain an empty building.

  In all, the total costs to renovate both the school and the convent (both, along with the church and the parking lots across the street, are private property) would have been over 2.5 million dollars. Many different scenarios were raised for the vacant buildings. It was suggested that the school be turned into apartments and also selling to an outside company.

  The church wasn’t equipped to be landlords; the boiler, plumbing, electrical systems were all outdated and there are no wheelchair accessible entrances. The Diocese of Lansing made the decision they weren’t going to invest money in fixing anything and the committee agreed that the buildings needed to go.

   Colleen Tinsey, Director of Administration added, “The proximity of the school to the church building, we can’t just sell to anyone without that impacting our worship space or have people living there if converted to apartments, where would our parishioners park? Those living in the apartments park? Do we have the ability to discriminate who lives there and if their lifestyles follow the teachings of the Church. It becomes a complex problem.”

  Demolition is set to begin by the end of the year. Burnash Wrecking is doing the demolition and they will be moving in equipment soon. They estimate it will take about four weeks to demolish the school and then they will begin work on the convent.

  The plan after demolition is to put in a church parking lot and a new west entrance to the church. Over 40 funerals per year are held at the church and caskets have to be carried in from Howell Street, around to the front of the building on M-21. A new parking lot will allow an accessible entrance to the parish office. Once the new parking lot is built, the parish hopes to sell the parking lots across the street to recoup some of the money back from demolition and the new parking lot.

  Many have asked if any historic artifacts have been saved from the school. Several alumni and retired teachers searched through everything and saved championship trophies, a band drum, class pictures and yearbooks, that will be placed in a display case in the parish hall. The center of the gym floor was salvaged to put on the wall of the current school and the limestone “St. Paul School” that hung over the entry doors was salvaged and will go into a brick memorial by the church. Also, the memorial bricks that surrounded the flagpole behind the old school were all moved and put around the flagpole at the school. There will be bricks available to anyone who wants some once the demolition begins.

  “I understand the emotional attachment that many in the community have for St. Paul School, there were many great memories and friendships made there. However, what people don’t understand is that we don’t receive tax dollars for our school students. We rely on enrollment and the generous support of our parishioners to keep our school and parish operating and to maintain our facilities. Over the years, a Catholic education became less of a priority for families and just like other Catholic schools we have seen our enrollment decline. We have also experienced a decrease in the number of Catholics who attend Mass and those who financially support the parish. The decision to move the school and now to demolish the buildings is based on many factors and a lot of thought, prayers and input went into making those decisions,” said Tinsey.

  Buysee added, “This was not an easy decision to make. A lot of families have a lot of memories that were made at the St. Paul School. I hope everyone realizes that the committee can’t make decisions. All we do is make recommendations and pass them on to the Pastor and the Diocese.”

St. Paul School and Convent Soon to Be A Thing of the Past was last modified: December 22nd, 2021 by Karen Elford